Iterative Design at Work: Xerox and dmh Marketing Partners

Jim Hamilton
Sep 23, 2011

What would happen if you worked closely with a customer during the early stages of a product’s development? This is a question that Xerox executives considered as the company began applying its phase-change inkjet technology to a new high-speed continuous feed production color printer design. The customer that Xerox chose for this experiment was dmh Marketing Partners, and it looks like they found an excellent partner to test this concept of iterative design. Over a period of about two years, Xerox and dmh developed a design concept into a product, the Xerox CiPress 500, which was announced at Graph Expo 2011. (For more information, see the InfoTrends blog: Xerox to Show CiPress 500 Production Inkjet System at Graph Expo.)

Shortly after making the announcement of the CiPress 500, Xerox brought a group of analysts to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to visit Alaniz, one of the eight companies that make up dmh (direct mail holdings). Located amid cornfields not far from a Walmart distribution facility, the Alaniz facility has been the site of the CiPress 500 testing. It is currently the only external CiPress 500 site, though Xerox noted that others would be announced this fall.

dmh Marketing Partners site: Alaniz in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

dmh Marketing Partners site: Alaniz in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

dmh Marketing Partners describes itself as a “response generator.” The company prints 1.3 billion pieces of mail annually. Founded in 1992, dmh’s customer base is made up of non-profit organizations. These customers value color, but are very cost conscious.

At the site since April, the CiPress 500 was the focus of a gala press and customer event that drew dmh and Xerox executives, Xerox customers, as well as the governor of Iowa (Terry Branstad) and the local state representative (David Heaton). Politicians tend to pay attention to growing companies, and dmh is currently in the middle of a growth spurt, adding employees at an impressive pace.

Randy Seberg, chief technology officer at dmh, was a key player in the partnership. His presentation to the press and analysts was peppered with phrases like “Creative ingenuity”, “Doing the impossible”, and one of his favorites: “Do it right now right” (which is perhaps best understood by saying it out loud with the emphasis on the words “right now”). His rule at the start of this project was that the device must use the same paper as the company’s offset Didde web presses. These are low-cost commodity uncoated offset papers, and dmh doesn’t use a huge range of weights, typically 50 and 60 lb. offset. It’s fair to say that dmh has been impressed with the process and the results. The print technology is only a piece of it. What is particularly important to dmh is what the CiPress allows them to do for their clients. One key aspect is the ability to commingle pages digitally, rather than having to do so physically in a separate step.

Print samples from the Xerox CiPress 500

Print samples from the Xerox CiPress 500

Xerox has been using the term “waterless inkjet” to describe the CiPress 500’s print technology. The inks are made of polymeric resins that are melted before jetting. This does set the CiPress 500 apart from the great majority of high-speed continuous feed color inkjet products, most of which use aqueous inks containing either pigments or dyes. Yet the use of the term “waterless” has a distinct marketing angle to it, and Xerox’s point is that drying aqueous inkjet print output generally requires a lot of electricity in the form of blown hot air or bright lights. Xerox counters that the CiPress has low energy use and does not require venting.

Sample of the CiPress 500's magenta ink

Sample of the CiPress 500's magenta ink

Xerox has also highlighted the device’s stability and consistency, not only from the beginning to the end of a run, but also across a wide range of substrates. Print samples speak louder than words, and in this case Xerox showed an excellent print sample to support this point. I discussed this in my video blog overview of Graph Expo print samples (see the inkjet section).

Xerox CiPress 5000 print engine

Xerox CiPress 5000 print engine

The CiPress 500 output that was shown to analysts was process color. The device is capable of printing up to six “channels.” Xerox is using four of these for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black and has not yet said what it might do with the extra channels. The company did say that it would have a strategy for magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) by drupa (May 2012), but would not confirm whether that implementation would use the fifth and/or sixth channels. In reference to the life of the heads used in the CiPress 500 dmh noted that it had not had to change any heads yet, though it did say that it had lost a few due to damage in handling (i.e., ones that were dropped or otherwise mishandled by an operator).

Inkjet head for the CiPress 5000

Inkjet head for the Xerox CiPress 5000

A valued customer is typically the one chosen to be a beta site for a new product, yet calling dmh a “beta site” for the CiPress 500 does not fully explain the depth of the relationship between the two companies. The interactions between a manufacturer and a customer do not typically go to this level. There is still much to be learned about the CiPress 500 and its capabilities, but one thing is sure: the cooperation between dmh and Xerox is exceptional.

InfoTrends is currently in the field with a research project in which we are interviewing leading edge users of high-speed continuous feed color inkjet printers. For more information, see “High Speed Continuous Color Inkjet Opportunity: Global Insights from Leading Customers.” If you have such equipment and would be interested in being surveyed for this study, please contact me at jim_hamilton@infotrends.com.

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